This question was posted to my comments and (with the questioner’s permission) I’m posting it here and asking for your answers.
As you know, if you read this blog, I’ve written about this issue so many times, but I’d really appreciate other people’s solutions.
We know it’s unequal, we know we are the 22% (seen/broadcast/written about – Vida’s literary stats here, theatre IS as bad) despite being 50% (NOT A MINORITY), we want change and we want ways of making that change NOW.
So yes, do suggest your favourite monologues that aren’t for semi-naked women.
I have, for example, already suggested my Mrs, Shelley Silas’s Mercy Fine, for powerful roles for women.
But the question is much bigger than already-written work, it is, like the brilliant Equal Writes, about what else can we do? What can we do to create change?
How do we make the sea-change?
If libraries and drama schools and publishers aren’t sharing brilliant work for women actors, how can we encourage them to do so?
How does a young woman actor, still in training, make the sea-change?
We’ll all look forward to your answers.
here’s the question …
I tweeted you earlier today … here is my question from Bristol Women’s Literature Festival:
I wanted to raise the subject of women’s writing in theatre.
I am an actor, I am currently training and will soon be exposed to the industry, and I spend a lot of my time searching for monologues from modern plays, to produce at auditions and workshops.
I am getting tired of pulling out plays where the only female characters are prostitutes, victims of sexual abuse or domestic violence, use foul language, talk about shocking and graphic encounters, or who just talk about their vaginas – characters who confront the audience with the content rather than the quality of the acting. If I find a female role unlike this, I am so often too young to play it. I am 20 years old.
What I find most frustrating is finding that these roles are written by women. This is not, however, my point. My point is, that these female playwrights who write roles for women, about “women’s issues”, seem to be the only female playwrights who are getting attention from the libraries, online and printed reviewers, drama schools, large theatres. There is undoubtedly a wealth of female writers who are writing plays that don’t concern the things I listed above – but how on earth do I find them?
I find it incredibly hard to find well-written monologues by women (and by extension, plays and dramas) that aren’t like this, with the resources that I have – internet, libraries, recommendations from other female actors. It’s a real concern of mine that the relationship between my personality and interests – namely feminism and the arts – and the roles that I am going to play are linked, by coincidence, but seemingly by choice. While I support women’s writing in every corner and from a content point of view would have no qualms about playing such roles as I have been describing, it frustrates me to think that I could be presenting a political point of view in my work that many people in the industry would have trouble separating from my personality. This is not how I want to go about my career as a female actor. In short, I don’t think I’d get diverse work, because word of mouth would get in the way.
To put it another way, I have asked this question to many of the girls on my course: if on graduating from training, for your first ever professional job you were offered a Bond girl role in the next movie, would you take it? The answer I continually receive is “You would not turn that down!”
Why not? It gives you huge exposure to the industry, but at what price? How do you ever shake that sexualised, visualised role off your shoulders and show the world that you are actually an actor? That’s not what I have invested in.
I haven’t really formulated a question, not in two whole days! In truth I just wanted to raise the issue and hear some opinions on the matter…
Do you think there is a danger for inexperienced female actors such as me?
Thanks for your time,
(and thank you Rosie, for the question, and for saying I can use your name. Putting our NAMES to our pleas for change is certainly a step forward.)
Just to concentrate on practical for moment Caryl Churchill is a great source for diversity of monologues. Try Fen, Top Girls & Cloud 9 for starters but shorter plays too. Sarah Daniels Gut Girls, Amanda Whittington Be My Baby, Bollywood Jane.
On larger topic I do an exercise with writing students asking them to imagine a scene between characters A & B. Most will make it male/female, some both male no one has ever proposed 2 females. Need to change that mind set some how.
Reblogged this on The Adventures of littlemissmandu and commented:
How long will we be having this conversation for?? From Stella Duffy.
Hello Rosie, your search and your question delight me! My response would be, just grab every opportunity that comes your way if it attracts you. I’m not an actor, but the only things I’ve ever regretted doing are those that I did because I thought I ‘ought’ to. (I loved this recent interview with Alice Walker which mentions choices in passing http://youtu.be/UadveROnHHk.) And I’d love to hear of any monologues you’ve found that do meet your needs, regardless of who wrote them!
Yes, I agree, it is a real problem and very frustrating – I’m an actor and have hit all the problems that Rosie so brilliantly details. A couple of basic practical thoughts which may help; I have hardly ever since leaving drama school in 2001 been asked to do a monologue, most auditions ask to read from the script; but for myself I found working on any monologue that I connected with of real benefit, regardless of age or gender. I guess if you are asked to prepare a monologue for an audition and have one that really works for you but you’re not obvious casting for it because of age/gender etc but you think it shows you well in terms of the piece you are auditioning for….well then it’s worth I think contacting the people you are meeting and letting them know what it is. I would say ask them if it’s okay if you do that piece, but it is so easy to feel subservient as an actor that I try not to ask other people for permission, anyway depending on the situation try and strike a balance with an assertive enquiry I guess!
The bigger problem is the bigger problem…. lack of roles for women, lack of variety of roles, lack of depth of roles, lack of honest reflection of women as we actually are. I’ve turned down 2 roles because of the nature of them despite them being paid well and by 2 of my favourite writers – we do carry the work that we do with us, and I couldn’t at the time of each of them carry the load of a silenced miserable naked woman, or the load of a(nother) self-mocking repressed housewife whose husband had left her. At another time I might have done them and I might do similar roles in the future, but I think all we can do is choose for the particular moment and place we are in. But that doesn’t bring the change in the lack of roles that we are after, I think we need to keep talking about it, there has been an increase in media coverage about the issue I think and I know Equity are doing some monitoring. I hear from time to time about one off events that are focussing on women writers or parts for women or where there is gender blind casting (that can be contentious but it opens some doors and eyes I think) – Theatre 503, Agent 160, Velvet Ensemble, Sphinx come to mind – perhaps there could be an online resource page that people could add to when they hear of such events or new plays that are by women, or old plays that they’ve just come across?
Re encouraging people to support work by women, and from a reader/audience point of view, we can : (search for)& chose to attend shows with/by female artists. As these shows are mostly done by independent companies, we will also be supporting non-subsidized theatre. Chose NOT to attend all-male-subsidized-very-much-publicized shows. Take our male friends/family members to shows by/with women.
Ask our bookshop, local library to purchase work by women (ask for their ‘suggestions’ book, it DOES work).
Reblogged this on Every Passion Arts.
I do a lot of devised work with a group of performer friends that tends to be more females than males. Making work isn’t the answer to writers writing more varied characters for women, necessarily, but I would very strongly encourage the collaborative making of work as a great and proactive way to make a difference. I write musicals, and I wish drama school training went further in supporting and encouraging the making of your own work in musical theatre. I encounter more female than male performers, and if they were all making their own work at least part of the time, how women are portrayed in theatre might change a bit more quickly. Anyway, I say that if you want change, you can always just start making the change. It might feel at odds with your training and experience to date, but there are a bunch of us out there doing collaborative work-making, and we love people who want to come and jump in. Improbable’s “Devoted & Disgruntled” is also a great way to meet people who are seeking collaborations like that. It happens every January, and is easily googled for a ton of info.
I read your question with interest and tried to really think about it in all its contexts. As an actor of some 20+ years, now in my late 40s, it gave me cause to look back and wonder. There is no doubt that there are less fabulous roles for women than men out there, and I am attempting to redress this balance in my own small way by writing a play which has, to date, thirty female roles and four male! The women’s ages range from 30 -70, so I hope that will be a further balm to my peers! In terms of job opportunities as a female actor, well, Bond Girl is one extreme at one end of the spectrum. Of course, if one were to accept such an role you would be guaranteed to be catapulted into the celebrity stratosphere, but not necessarily into the Actors’ Pantheon. But you might gain useful experience, exposure, friendships and of course, you might manage to infiltrate some of your feminism and intelligence into the role by dint of your portrayal. In my humble experience, 50% of this job (at least) is decided by the way you look. I have lost out on countless jobs not because of my ability but because of my appearance. (I have also been told on several occasions that I was “too intelligent” for the role, which is another horrifying example of the pejorative attitude towards women in some areas of the industry.) And I’m sure I’ve also GOT some jobs for exactly the same reason. If you are lucky enough to have interesting or good looks as well as talent you would be, perhaps, unwise to eschew the former in favour of the latter everytime. After all you do want to work. In acting one cannot escape the fact that the political is personal and vice versa, and yet it is about portraying someone else, and if you can find the truth in that, you may overcome your distaste or unease with the character. If you wish to uphold your political and personal views at all costs, you may lose out in the long run. I have done some very dreary stuff because I needed to work and to earn my living. But at the same time I have also turned down jobs that I felt were gratuitous or demeaning to women per se. Or because I just thought the director was a knob! I have also worked with women-only companies, and workshopped with politically driven groups, and these all have their place and contribution to make. But the theatre/entertainment industry is dirty and beautiful by equal measure and we wouldn’t love/hate it so much if it wasn’t. As you begin your career you will have to decide in each case, which is more important to you. I’m not for one moment suggesting there is not some happy medium but sometimes you have to kiss a lot of frogs before you find your prince. Or princess. If I were to give advice to my younger self it would be to seize every opportunity with both hands and remember that, whatever the role, it is MY integrity that will last and will have it’s say. If you can sleep with yourself every night happily and without rancour, then you can forget about having to sleep with anyone else just to get a job. I am speaking metaphorically, naturally. I wish you the best of luck!
thank you for asking the questions. You are not alone in asking the ‘Why?’ ‘Still?’ ‘Are you fucking serious?!’ – We are many! And the more of us that do ask the questions, the more likely we will be heard. Some of the time we are being heard. And there are some amazing writers out there, writing some great parts for women – only some of which have seen the light of day. So the questions are also for producers, casting agents and directors – please think out of the box. And meanwhile many of us are also writing ourselves those roles, and making our own work, so our voices are out there, and we are taking risks, and finding other makers/ writers/ directors who are excited by us – us talented, outspoken, challenging, imperfect, contradictory, beautiful and oh, oh soooo worth it women performers. Keep asking, keep doing. And good luck! xx
Thanks Stell for posting xx
Just to say things are happening as older actresses are fed up with the situation they have been suffering for years and it is great that young women are noticing how male choices so often exclude us and are asking for change. Here is my crit for a great initiative the Monday before last.
From Equity Vice President Jean Rogers, posted on the Equity website:
EQUAL WRITES presentation at the Tristan Bates Theatre 11.03.13
Which women are we not seeing represented on stage?
Many congratulations to Equity member Mandy Fenton for bringing off such a successful evening of exciting and innovative pieces featuring women of all ages and diversity. A fantastic event at the Tristan Bates Theatre last night.
In barely a month, after inviting contributions, she and the readers sifted through around 800 pieces contributed by more than 600 individuals which were performed by 22 actors, all but one of whom were female, in twelve pieces directed by six female directors. A mammoth task!
At least four of the twelve presentations were written by men and none of the writing relied on female stereotypes. Many were pertinent observations of how women cope with society’s expectations of them or illustrated how women could be, if the tables were turned and they were the protagonist, as in “Ms Bond” by Emma Wilson.
In “La Barbe”, a hilarious piece by Sarah Rutherford, Charlotte Randle donned a full brown beard and told how wearing it helped her cope with her male colleagues’ sexist behaviour, so much so that underneath it she was growing her own. In “Walkie Talkies” by Kate O’Reilly, Mandy Colleran too used skilful comic timing to show how someone, despite disability, needs, and should expect, independence and respect.
One of the most moving pieces was written by Alice Jolly. In “A Blue Bonnet For Samuel”, beautifully played by Catherine Harvey, Alice explored the depths of a mother’s loss caused by the ineptitude of a doctor at her baby’s birth, still resonating many years later – her grief, her pain, her anger but above all her generosity of spirit to others caught up in similar circumstances.
There were many memorable performances, not one disappointing contribution, all deserving praise, and more importantly a life after this.
I must mention Yvonne Brewster and Joanna Wake as inmates of a sheltered home portraying two feisty, competitive, arm wrestling women from different cultures, who shared a mutual love and respect. “Flags” by Andrew Curtis, directed by Hannah Price, was warm, funny and very real. In “Medicine” by David Spencer and “Downfall” by Sumerah Strivastava we saw life from the younger perspective, raw and unaffected, touching in its pain.
At the end of the evening Mandy chaired a panel with questions and observations from the audience. On the panel was the writer Winsome Pinnock, the theatre director Hannah Price and I was on it too, outlining Equity’s continuing gender equality campaign.
This was refreshing theatre. How well the actresses took over the stage and made it their own. Backed by cleverly observed and executed writing, it was a joy to receive stories unfamiliar in theatrical terms but so familiar in ones’ daily life. Very absorbing, relevant, touching and funny.
Do go on the Equal Writes website where you can see the the names of the splendid writers, actors and directors.
Yes yes and yes. I am a 35 year old actor and it doesn’t get any easier, yes there may be some roles of substance, but there is (much) less work in general once you are no longer a ‘hot young thing’. From a purely practical point of view, do you intend to make a living from your acting, or do you have another income stream/plan? To me that is actually a crucial question, as you may not be able to afford (literally) to turn down the bond girl role or the other ‘girlfriend of or bit of eye candy’ stuff which is certainly the mainstay of a (paid) early acting career if you are female; and if you don’t work you don’t hone your skills (and have a credible enough CV) to land the good roles later on. To play devils advocate, to get high profile work, however dubious, potentially enables you to be in a better position to choose the work you really want, and to be honest type-casting happens on the basis of your ‘look’ almost regardless of what roles you have played it seems. As a new mother who hasn’t acted much professionally since the ‘fluff’ roles dried up I am currently making the fairly painful choice to put acting back into ‘hobby’ status as I can no longer afford it as a ‘career’ and I think that is what happens for many mid-career actresses. For your situation, if you are looking for monologues for generic auditions (as someone has said above, this is fairly rare) why not just do one written for a male character if you like it? The purpose is to show you off so any speech that you think will achieve this can work for you.
Sorry for the delay in weighing in here. I have been taking this very seriously and I’m going to give answering a shot but I withhold the option to add to my post if I forget something.
I am an actor in America. I have been out of drama school for (yikes) 16 years. I have a vague memory of looking for those sort of characters that you speak of: the strong-willed, self-determined, smart girls. I am now old enough to play the ones you are finding instead: the 30-40 year old, know-it-all, been-there-done-that types.
As an exercise I would say write your own things as you will learn a great deal. You will have something to perform but also you will have a better idea of what you are looking for even if you hope to find someone who does it better than you. One time I took a collaboration class and the writers wrote for us and asked what we wanted to play and I said someone who knows what she is talking about, an authority and really that is still what I look for in a character. I love playing someone with a different vocabulary who is an expert on something… So, yeah, write for yourself and others of your ilk and read new plays. (Go to readings of course and see as much theatre as you can) but really search for brand new plays, these are things that may or may not be published yet…
Also, I think you are smart to recognize that when you are doing general auditions your choice of material is part of what you are presenting. One, is it appropriate? And two, does it convey your aesthetic and your style, your politics and philosophy?
Try to locate an actor that you admire and see what material she is doing that attracts you to her. Also, find writers that you like and read as much as you can of his/her work…
In the mean time, here are some thoughts about specific writers.
(I’m not sure about monologs in all of these but the characters are good.)
Theresa Rebeck. She has written a lot of one acts and some short plays that are very funny. A lot of her plays concern 30 year old women but Mauritius has a good younger woman, the younger sister. Bad Dates is funny but really for someone a little older. Kate in Seminar is good and there is one monolog.
Amy Herzog. 4000 Miles and Bellville both have good strong young women.
Annie Baker. Circle, Mirror, Transformation has two interesting, young women.
(Amy and Annie seem to have written everything that is being done in New York right now…)
Elaine Murphy. (She is Irish) Little Gem. The youngest character, Amber.
Lucy Thurber. Great American writer. I’ll try to get a list of her plays but I know a lot of them concern young women.
David Harrower’s Blackbird has amazing material for a young woman.
Lucy Prebble. There were tons of monologs by the young woman in The Effect and she has written other things as well, before Enron.
David Hare. I mean he is very British, but Skylight has some good material. Slightly older than what you are looking for…
Lauren Weedman. No…You Shut Up. Bust. Wreckage. She writes and performs these amazing one woman shows that (I think) are published and (I think) would work really well as audition material and talk about edgy…
Check the nominees and winners of the Susan Smith Blackburn Prize:
[The prize, now celebrating its thirty-fifth year, honors an outstanding new English-language play written by a woman each year. Seven Blackburn Finalist plays have gone on to win the Pulitzer Prize in Drama.]
Finalists for the 2012-2013:
Karen Ardiff’s (Ireland) The Goddess Of Liberty,
Annie Baker’s (U.S.) The Flick,
Jean Betts’s (New Zealand) Genesis Falls,
Deborah Bruce’s (U.K.) The Distance,
Katherine Chandler’s (U.K.) Before It Rains,
Amy Herzog’s (U.S.) Belleville,
Dawn King’s (U.K.) Foxfinder,
Laura Marks’ (U.S.) Bethany,
Jenny Schwartz’s (U.S.) Somewhere Fun, and
Francine Volpe’s (U.S.) The Good Mother
And, as you say, just because plays are written by women doesn’t mean that the characters are instantly feminist and/or worthy.
And of course you can always go old school and do Joan of Arc (Shakespeare and Shaw) or Ibsen or Chekov.
Okay. That’s enough for now. Good luck Rosie.
Thanks for inviting me to the party Stella. Xox 00xxx ox.
I think it is really important to look outside of acting when you are trying to be an actor… I think that it is no longer realistic to channel all your energy into having a career purely as an actor; everyone knows there are thousands of people who look and sound like me and the people who will be graduating with me, who are better at our skills than we are, who are in the right place at the right time before we are… So yes I agree with you that taking the roles that come your way is probably your best bet if you want a career out of acting, on it’s own. I personally want to do more than just act but I would like plenty of experience under my belt before I turn to directing or teaching or tutoring or any of that…but I have always wanted to train as an actor so that I would be able to put my experience into directing.
This is part of the reason why these questions are so important to people starting out, because I think young actors need to get used to looking outside of their profession, and looking outside of the schools that they are at or the professional circles they are moving in. This is just one of the many problems with the industry and I am pleased that there are forums where young actors are able to voice their queries about the profession, and hopefully work through them with help and advice from others.
Thanks to everyone who contributed to this post, your advice and comments are all very interesting and I look forward to pursuing all the plays and organisation suggested. Thank god for Easter holidays!
All the best, Rosie